How Foreign Money Can Find Its Way Into Political Campaigns
Consider the window FARA filings offer into the ongoing political battle over U.S. trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. All three countries are lobbying ferociously to get those agreements ratified by Congress. South Korea alone has hired a number of top K Street firms.
One of the many lobbyists in the scrum is Kirsten Chadwick, a partner at the Republican boutique lobbying firm of Fierce, Isakowitz & Balock. Chadwick's latest FARA report shows that the Korean government paid her $300,000 in the four months between Nov. 29, 2010 and March 29, 2011.
Earlier this year, Bloomberg BusinessWeek named Chadwick one of its 15 Washington "power brokers." "What Kirsten Chadwick may soon have to show for her skills of persuasion is a U.S.-South Korea free-trade pact," the magazine wrote.
So what exactly did Korea get for its money? Chadwick's FARA report lists dozens of meetings with members of Congress and their staffs advocating on her client's behalf for passage of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. The report also lists 14 campaign contributions. In some cases, their timing does not appear coincidental.
On Jan. 28, according to Chadwick's filing, she met with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) -- and that very same day, she reported, contributed $2,400 to his campaign.
Chadwick also reported that on March 8 she met with then-Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) -- now the junior senator from Nevada -- to talk about the trade pact. That very same day, she reported, she contributed $1,000 to his campaign.
And here's the sequence of events Chadwick reported in her courtship of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.): On Feb. 8, 2011, she made a $1,000 contribution to his campaign. A week later, she spoke on the phone with Jeff Farrah, Brown's counsel for commerce, trade and judiciary. On March 29, she met with Brown himself -- and that very same day, contributed another $1,500 to the senator's war chest.
None of these senators' press offices were forthcoming when asked by HuffPost whether the senators might have been aware of any connection between Chadwick's visits and the contributions; whether they discussed the contributions with Chadwick, or inquired about them; whether they had any concerns now that the source her donations was foreign; and whether they intended to return the money.
Hatch's press secretary, Antonia Ferrier, said there was no record on Hatch's calendar of a meeting with Chadwick on Jan. 28 -- but wouldn't say whether such a meeting took place on another date.
"Senator Hatch follows the law to the letter -- all contributions are disclosed and can only be made by U.S. nationals," Ferrier wrote in an email.
"What Orrin Hatch does as a Senator and as Ranking Member of the Finance Committee is kept completely separate from what he does running for reelection," she wrote, adding, "he always has and always will fully comply with the law. And the law is very clear that no foreign national can make contributions."
Ferrier did not respond to follow-up questions.
Heller press secretary Stewart Bybee replied elliptically, in an email: "Mr. Heller did not have a meeting with the South Korean Government on March 8th. In fact, there has never been a meeting in Mr. Heller's House or Senate office with the South Korean government."
Bybee did note that "Ms. Chadwick has a long history of supporting Senator Heller and represents a number of interests important to the State of Nevada including the American Gaming Association." Bybee declined to respond to follow-up questions on the record.
Despite repeated attempts, HuffPost was unable to get a response from Brown's press office. Chadwick herself also did not respond to several detailed messages requesting comment.
One lobbyist willing to speak to HuffPost was William H. Nixon, chairman of the Washington firm Policy Impact Communications. His firm's name came up earlier this month when POGO asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that the government of Kazakhstan had made illegal campaign contributions through its lobbyists.